Major efforts are underway in Lebanon to restore Beirut, the country's capital, to its former importance as the financial and commercial centre of the Middle East.
Major efforts are underway in Lebanon to restore Beirut, the country's capital, to its former importance as the financial and commercial centre of the Middle East. The city, devastated during the 19-month civil war which ended last October, is now a bustling scene of reconstruction work.
SYNOPSIS: Beirut, was once the acknowledged gateway to the Middle East -- the recognised commercial capital of the Arab world. The war brought all that to an end, leaving it a shattered wreck.
The docks, too, were the most important in the region -- and in some senses still are, for during the war no other Middle East harbour managed to replace it. Now, some activity has returned -- although for the moment it's mostly used to import construction materials for its own rebuilding.
Beirut shopkeepers who have lost their premises have become accustomed to a new style of working -- with an ever-increasing number of street stalls being set up to cater for almost every variety of goods.
Another example of Lebanese enterprise is the St. Georges Hotel. Although the hotel itself is still damaged beyond use, the swimming pool has been re-opened -- and is doing good business even at three times the already-expensive pre-war price.
Behind the scenes the planners are hard at work, with Lebanese officials holding frequent top-level meeting with foreign experts in construction and finance. A Lebanese Information Ministry official at one such meeting explained the importance of re-building the city -- it was essential, he said, to build a bigger, better future in which past troubles could be forgotten.
But meanwhile, Lebanese Government appeals for cash to rebuild the nation's shattered economy are not being met as quickly as hoped. Arab money in particular is slow in being put forward. In the absence of immediate offers, the Government has had to go ahead with its own plans -- announcing in May a GBP160-million sterling administrative budget to cover essential operational rebuilding. The budget is intended for primary needs like the docks, the airport, and public utility buildings.
Private enterprise is also going ahead under its own steam. Pride of place has gone not to a reconstructed building, but a brand new multi-million-pound-sterling hotel and conference centre, already almost near completion.